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New Kickstarter for Do Better: The Marla Mason Stories

I just launched a kickstarter for a collection of my Marla Mason stories, Do Better, gathering the best and brightest stories about my cantankerous sorcerer and her colorful companions and mortal enemies and so on.

The collection will have at least one new story, and I’m very excited to dip back into Marla’s world. I’m done writing novels about her, and there may not be any new stories about her after this, so I’m enjoying a last trip into her point-of-view. I hope you’ll come along with me, and support the project or spread the word or both.

State of the Me

I thought I’d catch you all up on my various excitements!

My new book Liar’s Bargain is available now. It’s the third book in my Rodrick & Hrym series about a con artist and his best friend, who happens to be a magical talking sword of living ice with the soul of a dragon. (For sword & sorcery fans, imagine Elric and Stormbringer if they had a relationship kind of like Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser). All the books are standalone adventures, and this one is my favorite: it’s my “suicide squad” novel, with Rodrick & Hrym forced to go on dangerous missions with some other individuals of questionable morality in order to avoid execution. I’m really pleased with how it turned out, and I hope you like it.

After taking the month of May mostly off writing (apart from one short story), I’m ramping back up this month, working on my novel Closing Doors, the final book in my Marla Mason urban fantasy series. So many threads to wrap up! Who will be the new co-ruler of the underworld? Will the Bay Witch ever call in that favor? Will I reveal what, exactly, Rondeau even is? Will Marla forgive her enemies or take this last opportunity to smite them? I’m taking a full grand finale fireworks extravaganza kitchen sink approach to this last book, and it is fun. Also sad as hell, but I’m trying to focus on the fun. (There will probably be a Marla Mason collection with a new long story at some point in the not-impossibly distant future, and I’d say there’s a 85% chance of me writing a novel featuring her old foe/occasional friend Elsie Jarrow, so it’s not like I’m done with the whole world forever… but still, I’m wrapping up Marla’s story, and after almost 20 years with her, that’s big.)

I’m working on the next Patreon story too, of course, and it will be along by month’s end as well. It seems to be shaping up as something weird and cheerful and life-affirming, which seems like the kind of story we need right now.

Here’s a nice review of my story “The Fairy Library” (which you can also read for free; there’s a link in the review).

With its wry humor, imaginative world-building, and love of books ― in more than one way, as is possible in a fairy library ― reading this novelette was an absolute pleasure.

My family is taking an actual vacation soon after his school is done, spending some time in Southern California (mostly at Disneyland). I look immensely forward to not thinking about anything more pressing than riding rides and eating cheeseburgers every day.

A Nightmare

I seldom have nightmares, and when I do, I mostly enjoy them; they can provide really powerful, strange imagery to use in fiction. But I had a terrible one last night.

I was in the park, looking for my son, who I knew had wandered away. I wasn’t too worried yet, but I was getting anxious. I heard my son’s voice and went toward a lavishly-appointed tour bus parked on the grass. I climbed on board and walked down the aisle, and there was my son, dressed in strange fuzzy pajamas, curled up in one of the bus’s carpeted overhead bins, smiling. I said, “Honey, we’re not supposed to be in here, let’s go.”

Then a man appeared, holding a syringe in his hand, and stuck the needle in my arm. I tried to fight him, ineffectually, as my limbs and eyelids grew heavy. I thought, “No, no, this can’t be happening,” as afraid as I’ve ever been in my life. The man just stood there grinning as I stumbled against the seats and fell to the floor in the aisle. When I drifted fully into unconsciousness on the bus, I woke up in bed.

I opened my eyes to the dim morning light in the windows, and my son in bed next to me — he’d crawled in to join me around 3:30 in the morning — sleeping angelically. I felt a moment of pure relief…

And then I thought, “What if I’m still drugged unconscious on the bus, and this is the dream?”

I suppose I am sometimes still a horror writer.


When I realized I was 10,000 words into the novel and had not yet left the confines of the house that is my main setting, and also hadn’t revealed some essential facts about the two main protagonists, I decided I needed to do a little backfill. So yesterday I wrote a few pages slowing things down and setting things up (and introducing an invisible Studebaker).

It wasn’t a great day word-count wise, but given that I was solo-parenting all day, it could have been a lot worse. This is actually a terrible month for me to try to do a big novel-push, because my son’s school is closed for what amounts to 1/4 of weekdays in November, which means I lose basically every day off I’ve got — prime major writing time — to childcare. (I love doing stuff with my kid. Yesterday we hung out in parks and took walks and made soup. But it’s not good for writing.) And of course there’s Thanksgiving, which will eat into my writing time, and I’ve got a story I need to finish.

But even if I don’t get a draft of the novel done, I should make substantial progress. And I’ve got a few hours to work this morning, so I should stop complaining and start making.

Word count (for what it’s worth): For the day: 775. Total: 11,247.

Notable Line(s): “If there’s a hallucinogenic gas that makes you think [spoiler] and [spoiler], I want to know where I can buy that shit on the street.”

How do you like those apples?

NaNo Update: Wrote 2,500 words or so yesterday — a bit on my lunch break, the rest in the evening. A creepy pathologist has given his creepy opinion on a creepy medical mystery, and the subject of necromancy has been broached. Today I get to write someone running for her life and kicking robots. (Kicking robots is a futile thing; it hurts your foot, and doesn’t much bother the robot.)

Last night I started reading King’s 11/22/63, and it’s totally engaging so far. I’m not particularly interested in the Kennedy assassination, but that doesn’t matter; it’s weird time travel! And more importantly, it’s Stephen King. I’m pretty much a wholly non-critical reader when it comes to King, maybe because I started reading him so young. I just fall into his books completely and bob happily along. Even his books that didn’t make a huge impression on me, that I wouldn’t bother to re-read (Dolores Claiborne, Gerald’s Game) are entirely engrossing on my first time through. I could easily do nothing else today but read that book… except my to-do list involves going grocery shopping, going to the library, cleaning house, playing with my kid, writing more, etc. etc. etc.

I have deemed things autumnal enough to make my famous apple onion parsnip carrot soup. Here is the “recipe” (keeping in mind that, with soups, I just kinda put stuff in until it tastes good):

Brown a pound or so of sliced sweet italian sausage in olive oil. Add chopped peeled carrots, peeled apples, onion, and parsnips, and saute until the onions are translucent. Add maybe half a dark beer and a generous splash of apple cider vinegar. Bring to a boil and let some of the liquid evaporate. Add chicken or veggie broth until it’s as soupy as you like. Simmer a while. Season with rosemary. Serve with crusty bread or even sandwiches of sharp cheddar cheese. (How many of each veggie and what kind of apple to use is a matter of personal taste — I’d do maybe two carrots, a couple parsnips, a couple of Granny Smith apples, one good-sized onion.)

The Happiest Place In Anaheim

The long weekend in Southern California was pleasant and exhausting. We drove down on Thursday, spending about 7 hours in the car (with a couple of breaks). The kid was surprisingly tolerant of being strapped in a chair in a metal box on wheels for so long. We listened to podcasts and music and did a lot of singing. His favorite song is “Still Alive” (from the end credits of the great game Portal), and though I have two versions of the song, he only likes the one sung by the evil AI GLadOS, not the one sung by the actual songwriter, Jonathan Coulton. (As my son says: “I like the mommy one, not the daddy one.” Hilarious! On a related note, all men’s rooms are “Daddy bathrooms” and women’s rooms are “Mommy bathrooms.”) We got to our hotel in Anaheim and checked in and then braved the frigid afternoon for a swim in the pool. (Yes, the weather was cold, but: heated pool. And we could hardly deny the boy a chance to go swimming after he’d been so good on the long car ride.)

We rose early on Friday and headed straight for Disneyland, where for the next 12 hours our son was more or less constantly enraptured. Our friend Jenn joined us for the day, which was awesome. We had amazing line karma — I don’t think we waited more than 20 minutes to ride anything, and usually it was only 10 or 15 minutes. The kid loved everything we did, and nothing scared him — he loved Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Haunted Mansion, and even the hellscape in Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. (He was, however, so utterly terrified of the Pinocchio ride that he wouldn’t even go beyond the entryway. Who can explain the mind of a three-year-old?) We rode boats, and climbed into treehouses, and ate ice cream, and listened to music, and generally soaked it all in. By the end of the night, our boy caused a sing-a-long in line at the Dumbo ride by singing “Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me.” (Which is quite adorable.)

Saturday was, if not so long a day, an equally full one. We drove down to Irvine to have breakfast with our friend Greg before my panel. Really wonderful eggs benedict, even better conversation, and overall a fine meal that was sadly ruined a bit when my kid puked all over me at the table. (He didn’t throw up again after that, and we’re not sure what caused it, as he seemed fine otherwise.) Once I got cleaned up, I walked over to the student center where Literary Orange was taking place, and immediately ran into Gail Carriger (who I’ve met once or twice before) and Eytan Kollin (who I hadn’t). We were whisked to the green room, where I eyed the array of pastries avariciously, but didn’t seize any, as I’d just been thoroughly breakfasted. The panel (with Eytan and his brother Dani, and Kay Kenyon, moderated by Michael Bricker) went pretty well, ranging across myriad subjects related to SF and publishing. I didn’t fall off the stage or inadvertently curse at anyone, so I consider it a success.

Then I signed a few books before slipping away to have lunch with my wife and kid and our friend Anne (who is also the producer working on bringing my Marla Mason novels to screens big and small). We hit a wonderful Vietnamese sandwich shop, where we all ate vast quantities of food for small quantities of money. No puke this time. Things were definitely looking up.

After we said goodbye to Anne, we drove over to Newport Beach and enjoyed the relatively warm weather, letting our kid play in the sand and splash for a long time. He made friends with a little girl about his age, and much racing and romping and chasing was had. After the beach we walked to a nearby playground and let him run himself around unto exhaustion. From there, back to the hotel, and more swimming, and a big meal of ordered-in Thai food, and collapse unto exhaustion.

Sunday we drove home. And really did very little else. A wonderful little working vacation, I must say, but re-entry into real life is going to be a bit bumpy…

Deathly Ill Deadlines

Last week was a bit of an ordeal. We went to press on Wednesday for the April issue of A Certain Magazine, so that required the usual big push of hard work to finish. Wednesday night I did a panel on “The Radical Futures of the Book” with Nick Mamatas and Terry Bisson at Counterpulse in San Francisco, where we talked about e-books, self-publishing, the collapse of traditional publishing, Google, political writing, radicalism, and other things. I’m told it will be a podcast sometime, and I’ll link to it when the time comes, I’m sure. (I went to the panel straight after the end of a brutal deadline day, though, so I doubt I was at my best. I hope I struck the proper delicate balance of boorishness and being misinformed, for which I always strive…)

I took my day off with the kid on Thursday, and the boy started coughing in the afternoon. By evening it was clear he was suffering from a bad cold. He fell asleep in my lap after dinner and I put him to bed, but he woke up intermittently throughout the night, which wasn’t very restful. The next day he wasn’t any better — worse, if anything, wheezing terribly and feverish — so we took him to the hospital. That was more-or-less an all-day thing as they gave him steroids to help his breathing, then waited 45 minutes to see if he got better, then gave him more/different medication — rinse and repeat. He has asthma, so a bad cold can be pretty dangerous for him. By the afternoon he was buzzing on a steroid high and declaring himself “all better.” (Of course, he wasn’t, and when the meds wore off, he was a sad little dude.) But after a weekend of heavy asthma medication, he seems to be on the mend. My wife and I are sick now, too, of course. Having a pre-schooler means having your very own personal disease-vector right at home!

I did manage to get some work done, though, largely because deadlines loomed loomishly. I revised my novel over the weekend, and will send it off to the editor at the end of the week. The book turned out a lot better than I’d expected, and needed less work than I’d feared. A thousand thanks to my wonderful wife Heather for taking long stretches of childcare and allowing me to plow through making changes. I couldn’t do any of the worthwhile things I do without her.

Next week, I start working on some stories, and then my Pathfinder novel, City of the Fallen Sky.

I read Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold (I’m kind of a sucker for revenge stories, actually, they scratch some primal mental itch for me), and liked it a lot, certainly enough to read the trilogy set in the same world. Not quite as good as K.J. Parker’s gritty fantasies-with-minimal-magic, but in the same vein, and most enjoyable.

The Life Aquatic

On Tuesday I spent nearly four hours at Aquatic Park with the kid. A good time, but it’s a strange park.

On one hand, it has the best free play structures in the East Bay: a huge complex of wooden, castle-shaped climbing areas, with lots of slides, bars, bridges, etc. Also swings, sandbox, and so on. The play area is mostly fenced-in, so the kid can run pretty free while I, say, sit on one of the many benches and read a book. It’s also got lovely views of San Francisco, lots of water, ducks you can feed, cool trees, plank bridges across streams, a pier, and other things a pre-schooler finds endlessly fascinating. (Some of it even stirs up my own worn-down sense of wonder: the trees with branches so thick they block the view of the sky, and so long they bend down until they touch the water, creating a sort of evergreen room you can sit in.)

On the other hand, it’s also the area’s major park for anonymous gay in-the-bushes hook-ups, so you have to keep an eye on your kid and make sure he doesn’t run unattended into said bushes, and make damn sure the men’s room is unoccupied before you take your potty-training child in to pee. (The Yelp reviews give a good sense of the park’s, shall we say, complex nature.) Honestly, most of the hook-up stuff is at the south end, while the playground is at the north end, so the worlds needn’t intersect, but I do find it an odd combo.

It was a good morning out, though. The weather kept threatening rain, but the rain didn’t materialize, and eventually the sun came out and it was very pretty for a while. We walked the whole length of the park and back and generally had a grand time. The kid even entertained himself enough at home in the afternoon for me to write a bit. And I actually refrained from playing video games at all. My restraint and self-control are incredible!

Of course, I played video games Wednesday. I’m not some kind of virtuous robot.


My story “Hart and Boot” is up at Podcastle! (This is probably my best known story outside genre circles, because it appeared in a volume of The Best American Short Stories some years back. It was basically a hangover from writing my novel The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl — I’d done all this research about the old west, but there were bits of the research that didn’t fit in that novel, which were, nevertheless, too good not to use. So I used some of them here.)

There’ve been a couple of entries in The Alphabet Quartet since last I wrote: “E is for Excrement” and “F is for Forever”, and “G is for Graven”. That link up there will take you to the main compilation page at Daily Science Fiction where the stories are being added weekly. You can play the Guess Which Writer Wrote Which One! game at home. But Greg and Heather and Jenn and I will never tell. (Unless we do.)

Maureen Johnson has a great manifesto here on social networking and the folly of “branding.” Excellent stuff, which I couldn’t agree with more.

One of my favorite places online in recent months is Theodora Goss’s blog. She’s been updating daily (or very nearly so), with poetry analysis, bits of fiction, personal musings, thoughts on science fiction conventions and auctorial constructs — all sorts of juicy things. Never fails to make me think.

Resolutely Speaking

I usually do a whole big New Year’s Resolution post, going over last year’s resolutions — or “course corrections,” as they might be more accurately termed, since I use this time of year to assess and re-direct my efforts — but I think I’ll spare you all that song and dance and Unordered Lists this time in favor of a few simple statements:

I will try to be the best husband and father I can.

I will try to take care of myself, too (whenever, Asimov’s-Law style, that doesn’t conflict with the above).

I will try to write better, and to write joyfully whenever possible.

I really think that covers it.